Understandably there is concern and even fear about the sharp rise in energy prices we are experiencing. It’s been a big enough gas price hike for a Scottish Minister to posture over the topic, and for the UK Parliamentary Opposition to start raising questions. Many of these politicians should be welcoming it, as they were the ones who told us we needed to burn less fuel and who invented policies to put prices up so we were forced to burn less.
I was one of the small minority of MPs who did not vote for the Climate Change Bill on 2nd and 3rd Reading. The last government pushed it through to general political acclamation. I was worried about the impact the market intervention would have on fuel prices for domestic customers who need to keep warm, and on business who need energy to produce. I did not get elected to Parliament to foster “fuel poverty” or undermine UK manufacturing. It was always going to presage dearer energy prices. That, coupled with the EU enthusiaism for renewables, was always going to threaten to export energy intensive business elsewhere. They wanted to impose a carbon tax on the cheapest ways of generating power, and subsidise or underwrite the competition from dearer energy. The chickens are slowly coming home to roost.
It was interesting to see Charles Moore given the centre page of the Sunday Telegraph to raise some worries about the UK’s pursuit of dear energy. He echoed the concerns we have often discussed on this site. How can you have a policy to foster and encourage more manufacturing, at the same time as having a dearer energy policy? Do you expect to even retain your high energy using industries like glass making, cement, tiles, aluminium smelting, steel making and the rest if your energy price rises well above Asian competition? Do you think engineering and assembly companies will want to invest in extra capacity here if energy is going to much dearer? Even in these businesses energy costs may be higher than employee costs in properly automated plants.
When we had the debate on settling the carbon price I was asked my view by the government. I said the correct carbon price if you wanted a competitive UK open for business was zero. They settled for a compromise, saying that they would review the quite high UK price if it threatened our competitiveness vis a vis the rest of the EU, and they would seek to keep in line in due course with other European countries. That may not be good enough, when the true competitive threat comes not from Greece and Portugal, or even from Germany and France, but from India and China.
Fuel efficiency and self suficiency in energy are two excellent aims. I am all in favour of saving more and pursuing much more fuel efficient processes. I am not in favour of exporting energy intensive business out of the UK by settling for much higher prices here than elsewhere. That is a false greenery which does the planet no good if you believe the global warming theory and sells the UK short when it comes to jobs and prosperity.
I was pleased to hear today that a government adviser is thinking of proposing that global warming is removed as part of the national curriculum.